My favorite day of the year. What used to be known as Breeders’ Cup preview day now has five Grade I races that always have major implications on both the Breeders’ Cup and the championship picture. If you’re anywhere near Belmont, it’s well worth making the trip over, not only to see some world-class racing but for the simple fact that you’ll never be able to get better seats on such an important day. Good luck to everyone and enjoy one of the best days the sport has to offer.
Please note that the $500,000 guaranteed Pk4 comprises races 7-10, but I did put the Beldame (race 6) in the analysis as well.
Race 6: The Grade I, $600,000 Beldame Stakes for filly/mares 3&up at 9 furlongs.
2. Music Note: Now that’s more like it; got back on the beam when she aired in the Ballerina at an unknown 7 furlongs over a sloppy track at the Spa. Maybe she moved up based on the surface, but when you beat Indian Blessing and Informed Decision by over 5 lengths, you’ve done something special. Back to Belmont, where she’s 4-for-6 lifetime, and back to a longer one-turn route, which before the Spa run was clearly her best trip. Even if she bounces, could they possibly find a softer Grade I for 600k? Seems extremely tough to get past based on her strong resume and the weak competition.
1. Captain’s Lover: Was a little disappointed in the way she threw in the anchor after walking on the lead in the Ballston Spa, especially considering her biggest stateside run was over a soft course. You almost get the impression they’re here because there are no other spots and aside from the rail, the rest of the field is there for the taking. It’s not the craziest thought process in the world, and if the rains come it’s worth noting she did air in the sloppy Matchmaker, but even so, a win seems out of reach.
1a. Unbridled Belle: It seems like 20 years ago, but she actually won this race in 2007. Since then, however, she’s 0-for-7 away from her beloved Delaware Park. Pletcher takes the blinkers off, probably hoping she settles a bit more early on, but they’ve been on for over two years straight so it seems more out of desperation than anything else. Nice to see Dominguez get back aboard, as he did some big things with her way back when, and she is coupled with Captain’s Lover, but on paper she’s just not fast enough anymore.
3. Copper State: Quite a useful horse who can jump up and run a big one every now and again, like she did when running second to Ginger Punch in the Grade I Go For Wand at Saratoga last year. Enters off a solid score in a minor stakes at Prairie Meadows, so you know she’s in good form. Still looking for her first graded stakes win, and as weak as this race is, it’s tough to envision that initial score comes here.
4. With Flying Colors: Desperately trying to get a Grade I-placing into this miss. And why not? She’s probably the best-bred horse in training. On the track, however, she hasn’t lived up to her Breeders’ Cup pedigree and if the Phippses were willing to part ways with her, that says a lot. Deserving longshot.
Race 7: The Grade I, $400,000 Vosburgh Stakes for 3&up at 6 furlongs.
1. Go Go Shoot: You had to feel for both horse and trainer in the Vanderbilt, as Levine was about 0-for-100 at that point and this guy ran the race of his life and still couldn’t get the job done against Fabulous Strike. They tangle again in here and with this rail draw it’s obviously a send mission. But there’s reason to be skeptical; he’s never run at Belmont; in the Vanderbilt he got eight pounds from ‘Strike; and today they’re at level weights and also the big guy loves it here. There’s some serious speed in this corner, and that’s always dangerous, but thinking he comes up just short once again.
2. Peace Chant: Thought he’d run much better in the Forego and though he did have a bit of trouble down inside, it wasn’t like he was going to win it. Nice to see him back for more, as it shows new trainer Phipps’ confidence and in this short field he should be right off the two leaders, who very well could be in a real hurry early. Somewhat interesting, simply because he’ll be the longest shot on the board.
3. Munnings: All things considered, he didn’t run poorly when third as the favorite in the Grade I King’s Bishop on the Travers undercard. And it’s possible he didn’t care for the sea of slop that encompassed the main track that day as well. But before you go too crazy, make sure you realize that all those gaudy wins this year were at 7 furlongs against horses that Fabulous Strike snacks on for brunch. Should sit a dream trip right behind the speed, but if he’s expecting ‘Strike to blink when he makes a run at him in the lane, that’s a staring contest he might not be ready to win at this stage of his career.
4. Kodiak Kowboy: One of the true tweeners of the past decade; at 7 furlongs he’ll beat just about anyone, but at 6 he just can’t catch the top, top sprinters. Ten years ago, when the Vosburgh was at 7 panels, he’d be 4-5 in here. But in 2009 it’s going to be a little trickier to get up over some tough rivals that don’t figure to be stopping. Respect his talent immensely, and he’s obviously the one to fear late, but he just might run out of ground once again.
5. Fabulous Strike: What a true warrior: 14-23 lifetime, 11-for-16 at 6 furlongs and he’s showing absolutely no signs of slowing down as a 6-year-old. Oh, and he’s 4-for-6 in his career at Big Sandy. He’s the sprinting version of Commentator but (sadly) without the popularity. Drew the perfect attack post, just like in his last two; wins in the True North here and the aforementioned Vanderbilt over ‘Go Go. And as mentioned above, he doesn’t have to give away a ton of weight to any of these. Add it all up and you’ve got the most likely winner of the five Grade I’s.
Race 8: The Grade I, $600,000 Flower Bowl Invitational for filly/mares 3&up at 1 ¼ miles on the inner turf.
2. Leamington: Part of that Team Motion brigade at Saratoga that could do no wrong in the second half of the meet and her win in the Voodoo Dancer stamps her as an up-and-comer in a race that’s taking applications for a fresh new face. Speed to spare and with this draw you’ve got to think she’s taking them as long as she can on lead, which might be a lot closer to the wire than most people think. Intriguing.
3. Pure Clan: It’s besides the point, but who’s betting this gal at 3-2 in the Beverly D? Talk about smoke and mirrors; she’s done all her best work by beating up on suspect competition while never really running fast. Of course, there’s no denying that you’re not seeing a field brimming with Grade I-talent in here. At the mercy of the pace every time she meets the starter and things figure tepid at best, so taking a strong stand against.
4. Dynaforce: Caught her course in the Beverly D and the result was no surprise as she loves the boggy going. And don’t you know, they’re talking rain once again? Ran off over a yielding course in this race last year so you know she likes it here. Doesn’t quite seem as fast as in 2008 but if there’s some give in the ground, she’s a must use. On a firm course, however, it might be worth taking a stand against her.
5. Criticism: Figures as the main danger to Leamington early, but she’s never been the run off type that wants to tussle on the lead, so expecting her to sit in second early and bide her time. Tough to get too disappointed by her seventh in the Diana as that 9-furlong affair was far short of her best distance, not to mention she might not like a little give in the ground, which gets us back to the potential rain. If it’s fast and firm she’s a player; anything else she might be up against it.
1. Carribean Sunset: From New York to Pennsylvania back to New York to California and now back to New York all in the span of four months. No wonder she came up a tad empty at even money in the Palomar at Del Mar. Now she’s back at Belmont, where she got her U.S. campaign underway with a pair of runs earlier in the year. Owns an abundance of tactical speed and can seemingly deal with any type of ground; big, big shot for the win.
1a. Beauty O’ Gwaun: Coupled with ‘Carribean, and with Dominguez named on both, only one figures to start. She’s probably entered as an insurance plan should something go amiss with her stablemate, or if the rains render the course a mess. Assuming she does start, you get a whole new package with blinkers and Lasix added, but even so, it’s a lot to ask a 3yo to win a race like this in what would be only her fifth lifetime run.
6. Queen Of Hearts: Improving 4-year-old has come to hand in a hurry for the younger Jerkens and the fact that he’s willing to take a shot in this Grade I speaks volumes. Ran on admirably to be third in the Glens Falls, which was one furlong longer than she gets to play with here, and don’t forget that was her first start against graded stakes foes. There’s a quick, sudden burst of speed in this miss and that could come in mighty handy turning home. Tabbing her as the upset special of the day in the one race where things could get a little kooky.
7. Moneycantbuymelove: Sophomore invades from Europe with a 2-for-8 ledger, but she did run a big third to a couple of toughies in the Grade I Nassau at Goodwood in her last. Gets Lasix and drops some weight as well, which can never hurt, and if you test your memory you’ll remember Lailani came over from Europe to annex this race as a 3-year-old a few years back. The Goodwood run was her first start against Group horses, so to be third in that historic race is pretty heady stuff. On paper her running style suggests she’ll lag at the back and make a late run, and though that might not be the preferred path to the winner’s circle in here, she must be respected.
Race 9: The Grade I, $600,000 Joe Hirch Turf Classic for 3&up at 1 ½ miles on the Widener turf.
2. Interpatation: Neat old guy hasn’t seen the winner’s circle in quite some time and he sure didn’t pick a good spot to stop the streak. He has outrun his odds in the past but even a minor award seems out of reach.
3. Al Khali: Progressing nicely since Mott got him two starts back and he enters off a breakthrough win in the Grade III Saranac at the Spa against 3-year-olds. Well, that’s neat and all, but these aren’t 3-year-olds he’s lining up against today, so he’s going to have to keep the momentum going if he wants to threaten. Not out of the question that a career run is in the works, but it’s probably still not good enough to beat the likes of Gio Ponti.
4. Telling: Tough to see that Grade I Sword Dancer win coming, which explains the 33-1 mutuel. But on the face of it, it was a huge run; he was the only horse to be near those insane splits and not only did he hold on, he ran away from a pair of runners that closed from the back. He’s bred to be this kind of runner as dad A.P. Indy needs no introduction and mom Well Chosen upset the Grade I Ashland for D. Wayne some years back, so maybe he’s just finally figuring it all out? If that’s the path you’re taking, he’ll be another nice number in a race that has only one true standout.
5. Musketier: Simply put, he was awful in the Sword Dancer when contesting suicidal splits. So it’s no wonder he dropped his parachute turning for home. Today should be completely different, as he’ll be able to sit a distant second to the runaway train that is Presious Passion. And that’s not a bad thing because he should get first run on the rest. Gave Gio Ponti a battle here in July in the Grade I Man ‘O War and if he can get back to that race, he could be the one to spring the upset.
1. Gio Ponti: Well on his way to having one of the best turf campaigns in quite some time; horses just don’t win four Grade I’s at three different distances in Ca., Ill., and NY at a mile and up. You really have to admire this guy as well because no matter how fast or slow they go early, he’ll just bide his time at the back of the field and mow them down in the lane. If you dare try and beat him, your only saving graces are the untested 1 ½ miles and the fact his two big wins here in the summer were on the inner course, but it’s hard to believe he doesn’t just inhale them all one more time. Formidable.
1a. Winchester: Coupled with the favorite and with Dominguez named on both, only one will start. Much like the Flower Bowl, where Clement has a decent insurance policy should his top gun not make it. If this colt starts, he’s a threat based on his return to form when second to Grand Couturier in the Bowling Green here three weeks ago.
6. Ready’s Echo: What’s next after this? He went 10 furlongs on the main in the Suburban here in July, then cut back to 1 1/16 miles on the Poly at Woodbine, then cut back again to 7 furlongs in the Forego and now goes out to 12 furlongs on the green. Seems to make perfect sense. Stone-cold closer probably won’t even have Gio Ponti beat early, so expect him to try to follow that guy’s big late rally–albeit at a much more deliberate clip.
7. Presious Passion: If you’ve never seen him run, don’t ask what the heck Trujillo is doing when he opens up 15 lengths on the field, because that’s exactly what’s going to happen. And it worked over his home course in the Grade I U.N. in July, so it’s not as if the strategy is pure fodder. Last time in Gio Ponti’s Arlington Million, he tried it again but the soft course did him in, so if the rains come, tread lightly. If it’s fast and firm, he’s shown in the past he won’t quit at this trip, so if you’re one of the few that think Gio Ponti is suspect at the trip, you could do a lot worse than trying to get this gelding home at a big number.
8. Grand Couturier: The probable second choice got going again with a powerful late run in the Bowling Green, which makes him a player in here, especially when you see he won this very race by 10 ¼ lengths last year on a yielding course. At the mercy of the pace, but that’s a theme in this spot, so not holding it against him. Owns five wins at the distance, which is what the rest of the field has combined, so he’ll love the trip. Rates as the logical alternative if the favorite’s not for you.
Race 10: The Grade I, $750,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup for 3&up at 1 ¼ miles.
1. Sette E Mezzo: Mott shoots for the moon with a turf runner who is in career form. He’s by Dynaformer and out of an Alydar mare, so the potential for success on the main is there. A win, however, seems like a mighty tall order, even with a Hall of Famer doing the training and a future Hall of Famer doing the riding.
2. Macho Again: The Rodney Dangerfield of the sport might finally get some respect after he gave Rachel Alexandra a monumental scare late in the Grade I Woodward at Saratoga. And if they closed the doors on the Eclipse voting today, this colt might be your champion older male. No doubt his last two runs were aided by extremely rapid splits, and at 10 furlongs today things don’t figure to be that heated up front, so it could pan out a bit differently. Also don’t forget that his last two, the Woodward and Whitney, were both at Saratoga, which he loves. And sure, he won the Grade I Foster in June, but that race didn’t exactly break any land and speed records. Due a ton of respect, but siding against.
3. Summer Bird: Not sure why he wasn’t favored in the Travers, but either way he sure looked good winning for fun. That was his second big run in a row, as he chased Rachel Alexandra home in the Grade I Haskell two back. Both those races were over extremely sloppy tracks, so if the rains hold off you’re allowed to be a bit skeptical about his chances at producing a top effort on a fast strip. Sure, the Belmont Stakes was a beauty, but there were some extenuating circumstances that day that helped him a bit. A win candidate, but not quite as imposing as the tote will tell you he is.
4. Tizway: No one has mentioned it, but his run in the Whitney was huge; he chased an insane pace in his first two-turn start of the year and was beaten just 5 ¾ lengths. That’s good stuff and it sets him up for a big run on the engine in here. Also nice to see Bond wait out the Woodward and aim at the bullseye here. Only Quality Road has a hint of speed and with his outside draw and suspect ability at 10 furlongs, it’s entirely possible they try to nurse him along early with the hopes he gets the trip (see the Travers running line), which would leave this lightly raced and improving colt loose on the lead. Theft is clearly on the agenda and it’s not out of the question.
5. Asiatic Boy: Had to scratch out of the Whitney with a fever and then came back to run a non-threatening fourth in the Woodward. It’s pretty obvious things haven’t exactly gone according to plan since he came to the U.S., and it’s also obvious he’s not the same horse that did some fine things in Dubai earlier in his career. The good news is that he’s got a nice run over the track and should be able to move forward off that Woodward; the bad news is this barn always gets pounded at the window and the reality is that he’s open lengths behind a few of these on paper.
6. Dry Martini: Won the Suburban over the course and distance in July, but that was a weak affair that fell apart late. He also entered that Grade II in good form, but this time he enters off a disappointing fifth in the Whitney, where he got set up beautifully and could do nothing. Freshened since and with Tagg calling the shots, you know if he’s here he’s in good shape. Not out of it, but also not at the top of the list.
7. Quality Road: Always been suspect about his ability to handle 10 furlongs against top competition, but with that being said, his Travers run impressed; it looked like he was stopping even before the turn but he dug in, battled through to the wire and somehow managed third. Not bad at all considering he had one historic 6 ½-furlong prep off a bum foot and a four-month break. The big concern is that the way he was ridden during the Travers run says they aren’t quite sure 10 furlongs is his gig. He could have easily been free and clear on the lead but they opted to take back and stalk, which isn’t how he built his reputation. You have to figure he’ll lay off Tizway in here, and that’s not a bad ploy because if that guy gives it up, this runner will be there to take over. Not crazy about him at this classic distance, but the race flow might get him to the wire first. Using.
Brian’s $30 Pk4 main ticket: 5 *** 1,2,4,6,7 *** 1,5 *** 3,4,7
$15 Pk4 backup ticket: 3 *** 1,2,4,6,7 *** 1 *** 3,4,7
$6 Pk4 backup ticket: 5 *** 3,5 *** 1 *** 3,4,6